I’ve been to Honda Center a handful of times. Most notably when it was called The Pond and we were all Might Ducks fans. Classic. For now, however, I want to discuss what I expect the gym to look like on Thursday when I’m there. It will be full of Badgers, Aztecs, Wildcats, and then the Baylor Bears. Here is my rendition of what the inside of Honda Center will resemble:
Inside the Honda Center
Tell me I’m wrong?
#1 Arizona vs. #4 San Diego State
Storyline: I love what Arizona has a chance to do here (shocker, right?). Should they advance to do what KenPom says they have the second best odds to do, Arizona would have beaten both SDSU and Gonzaga in doing such. Fitting. Last year the Zags were the first Western-based one-seed since UCLA in 2008. They were bounced like Shockers (round of 32). As for the Aztecs – between 2009 and a December 2012 loss to Arizona – SDSU won seven straight games against Pac-12 schools. They haven’t lost to a California based school in something like two Steve Fisher lifetimes (42+ games to be more exact). The Pac-12 was simultaneously doing things like not sending their conference champion to the NCAA tournament and so SDSU and Gonzaga were staking legit claim to the crown of West Coast hoops. But then Arizona beat SDSU in Hawaii (as far West as it gets) and again this past November. Arizona is reestablishing itself as the coast’s elite, San Diego State is trying to win the MWC’s first Sweet 16 game since 1991 (of current MWC members). I like the Wildcats’ pursuit of big things.
Style to keep an eye on: Look, let’s make no bones about it: San Diego State struggles to score. As in their offense ranks just a spot ahead of Northern Colorado and below Northwestern State. #GillingIt. They shoot the 304th ‘best’ FG% on their 2pt jump shots. This does not bode well for them. Arizona’s #1 rated defense is going to force them to take a lot of these shots. Their defense – as we’ve discussed – is predicated on forcing this shot and they do it better than anyone else in the country. So if you want me to run the math for us, I will: Arizona is going to force SDSU to take a ton of shots they don’t make. That’s a rock and a hard place framing that Aztec. And they really do themselves any favors. SDSU is already offensively inefficient and they assist on the third lowest percentage of FGs in the country. For a bro school, they’re really not being bros. Share the rock.
Match up to keep an eye on: Sean Miller doesn’t think there’s a “better guard in the country.” Never mind that his own off-guard is an All-American, Miller effused about Xavier Thames. And rightfully so. He’s putting up 27 per tournament game and draws fouls at a nearly 60% rate. Trouble with a capital DEPTH ISSUES FOR ARIZONA. But this is our match up section. That All-American we mentioned? He happens to be really good at guarding big guards no matter their skill set. Ask Jordan Adams, Roberto Nelson, Chasson Randle, Justin Cobbs, or Xavier Thames. Last time around, Thames got his points (note that aforementioned foul line) but he had to work for it; shooting 5-16 and just 3-12 from inside the arc. As noted, Thames is hot and the Aztecs have needed about every one of his buckets. The game hinges on his play.
#4 UCLA vs. #1 Florida
Storyline: The Gators have eliminated UCLA in three of their last six NCAA tournaments. That’s interesting by itself but now let’s note that one of those eliminations came in the national title game and another came in the national semifinal (Final Four if you need an assist). Florida won back-to-back titles and UCLA watched Ben Howland lose his team, program, and eventually his job. We could play the Sliding Doors game and note the ‘what ifs’ but that’s just mean (Like I don’t dwindle on Tim Floyd or Kevin O’Neill thoughts as an Arizona fan). This one means something to the UCLA community no matter who struts that sideline.
Style to keep an eye on: All of it. UCLA wants to get shots up, owners of the 15th shortest possessions in the country. Conversely (a key word as we walk through this match up) Florida forces teams to take the 2nd longest possessions in the country. The Bruins do one helluva job stealing the ball and turning that into transition offense. I writed all abouts it. They’ve got the 4th highest steal rate in the country feeding the 39th highest percentage of transition offense. The converse? Florida’s offense has a very mediocre steal rate (ranks 188th) but have the 13th best transition defense. Are you with me here? These two have very opposing styles which makes for one terrific match up. It projects to be a lot like the Pac-12 championship game which was phenomenal. Hooray the March sport!
Match up to keep an eye on: I’m going to list a few because I’m interested in this. First, Kyle Anderson and Will Yeguete. Few people can stop let alone slow, Slo-Mo. He’s too big for traditional guards, too crafty for bigs, and too good for the rest of the floor. Will Yeguete, however, may have the guile (read: size and athleticism) to contain the point-forward-center-wing. Yeguete is Florida’s 6’8″ garbage man. A crazy thought if you consider just how much dirty work a guy has to do in order to be considered the guy that does the dirty work on a Billy Donovan team. He just might be dirty enough to stop Anderson. Conversely (I’m using it again), there’s nothing dirty about Michael Frazier’s jumper. It’s a thing of beauty. He connects on 44% of his threes and Shot Analytics went ahead and reminded us just how good he is (spoiler: quite good). And UCLA’s defense poses the match up here. They allow the fourth highest percentage of shots to come from distance. Me thinks Michael is going to get some looks. Also, I’ve got to mention the transition D (Florida) vs. transition O (UCLA), again. SUCH A GREAT MATCH UP THAT I’M NOT GOING TO GET TO WATCH WITH THE SAME TIP TIME AS AZ-SDSU. Uggggh.
#10 Stanford vs. #11 Dayton
Storyline: Three weeks ago Stanford was dead to rights. They had just lost at home to Colorado on a weekend that probably couldn’t see them lose at home to Colorado. And then, on the season’s final Saturday, I was looking up at the television to see Utah with the ball down a point, with a shade less than a shot clock of time remaining, and presumably a play drawn up to sink Stanford’s dancin’ chances. Evidently the Utes didn’t have a play as they dribbled everywhere and eventually off themselves and Stanford won. And they’ve subsequently beaten Kansas, too. Yup, the Kansas Jayhawks lost to Johnny Dawkins’ Stanford Cardinal. The Card have now claimed two of their four biggest wins since joining the biggest stage. So what’s beating KenPom’s #44 team, Dayton (rated below ASU and Utah)? Let’s just say the Stanford Cardinal – dead to rights, playing for their coach’s job – have a very legitimate shot to be playing for a Final Four against a team (UCLA) they’ve already beaten. Think about that. And why the hell not? Stanford beat Kansas – Kansas – without making a single three pointer! The Jayhawks hadn’t limited an opponent to zero 3-pointers since 11/26/2010 when Ohio went 0-18 and Kansas won 98-41. Reread that score. A week later the Jayhawks did the same thing to North Texas as they went 0-12 and Kansas won 93-60. Stanford went 0-9 from deep and beat Kansas.
Style to keep an eye on: Don’t expect Stanford to win going oh-fer from distance this time. Not necessarily because of Dayton – they actually defend the three quite well – but because of the law of averages. Alas, this game won’t soon hinge on the three pointer. This is a game Stanford should win. They’re the bigger, stronger, faster kids who just beat – arguably – the biggest, strongest, fastest team. They’re playing as good of defense as they have all season (0.85 ppp in the tournament) and it really doesn’t matter what they’re doing offensively if they can do that. Similarly, Dayton has been playing sound defense, allowing teams under 0.9 ppp in the tournament. Granted, they’ve upset Syracuse and Ohio State who are (were?) more defensively than offensively oriented, but that shouldn’t take away from their defensive efforts. Meanwhile, the Flyers haven’t particularly scored it well. They are well below their average offensive efficiency in the dance. This could come down to a battle of who can out ugly the other, garnering a few easy baskets off turnovers or offensive rebounds (looking at you Josh and Dwight, though the O-boards aren’t Stanford’s game). I’ve been saying it for awhile, that I’m no longer concerned with pageantry, but if you need to see something that looks good, avert your eyes from this game.
Match up to keep an eye on: The best match up here is Stanford staring down the barrel of Father Time. I’ve spoken about it all over the place – how this is Johnny Dawkins’ group of seniors that stayed. I could note Devin Oliver, Dayton’s stretch-ish four. A 6’7″ 39% 3FG% who is still taking 36% of shots at the rim and leading the team in rebounding…and assists. A similar player to Dwight Powell in that versatility. But at this point, it’s all about Stanford. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing. They are on their last legs. A team on some semblance of a mission to play one more game together. And then another. And another. Until there just aren’t any more games to play.
Hooray the March sport, indeed.